The Active Obedience of Christ in Matthew 5:17 and 10:34

Part One: The two halves of the inclusio

B. 5:17-20, 7:12-29, 10:34-42: The thematic pattern and the inclusio structure

In Matthew 10, the broader discourse is often called the missionary discourse because the first half of the chapter is focused upon the sending of the 12 disciples out into the lands of Israel, with the purpose of preaching the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Halfway through it, Matthew, the author, transitions the discourse from speaking specifically the disciples’ present mission to the lost sheep of Israel to a future and continued ministry to the entire world, a ministry facing stiff persecution.1)Contrary to the parallels in the synoptic gospels, the disciples are not described in Matthew as having set out or accomplished their ministerial mission. Expressed throughout chapter 10 is the notion that the mission of Jesus’ followers is to be the same as his. The authority given to the disciples to go and preach, healing diseases is reminiscent of what Matthew explained Jesus to be doing in 4:17-25. The reflective  nature of their commission drawing upon the image of Christ’s itinerant ministry sets the disciples up as having the same mission with Jesus. Just as Jesus came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, brought division, and faced persecution so also will all his followers go to the ends of the world preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven bringing division and facing persecution. The mission of Christ in 10:35 to coming bringing a sword is continually being accomplished through the preaching of the word of God whereby men are being saved, day by day, unto the end of the age.

In a similar vein to 10:34, Matthew 5:17 is situated within the broader context focusing on the preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Sermon on the Mount discourse is introduced to the reader in the closing words of 4:17-25. After the temptation, Jesus began his ministry preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven and doing many miracles of healing and exorcism. The message of the gospel, which was at the core of his ministry, is further displayed in the miraculous works. When chapter 5 begins, it is introduced in the narrative form of Jesus going up and teaching the peoples from the mount. What follows is the discourse, but it should be clear following the introduction in 4:17-25 that the content of the Sermon on the Mount pertains to the message that Jesus was preaching in his itinerant ministry. Matthew 5:17 as a statement of the purpose for the incarnation fits like a glove with the message that the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. If the Kingdom has drawn near then the King has come also. Following the end of the sermon in chapter 7, chapters 8 and 9 pickup with a variety of healings and exorcisms much like what is described in 4:17-25 as part of the ministry of Jesus. Mathew 5-9 is a presentation of the typical work of the ministry that Jesus was described as doing in Chapter 4:17-25.

Like the relational order between 4:17-25 and 5:17; 10:34 as well follows the commission to the disciples in 10:5-8. The commission is reminiscent of the descriptive work of Christ in 4:17-25. The content of 4:17-25 and 10:5-8 are similar enough in nature that by chapter 10 the reader’s ear would have been drawn back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount even before getting repeated formulaic expression of 5:17 in 10:34. In a sense, the commissioning of the disciples prepares the reader for the closing of the inclusio. Just as the content prior to the target verses bear remarkable similarities so also does the content following 5:17 and 10:34, especially when reading it in conjunction with 7:12-29. A comparison of all three will reveal a line of thought that is replicated in a variety of ways creating a thematic pattern, a pattern that heightens the already tight connection between these verses.

At the close of the Sermon on the Mount, there is a transition from Jesus’s discourse of content concerning his mission to an exhibition of the non-teaching part of his ministry in chapters 8-9. In the closing statements of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew refreshes the idea of the Law and the Prophets together with four parabolic statements that highlight the division of people. Carson wants to see the close of the sermon as the end of an inclusio that began with 5:17, sealing off the Sermon on the Mount.2)CArons, 188. Contrary to Carson, it would be more proper to see it as a link in the chain holding together the larger inclusio of Matthew 5:17 to 10:35, and clearly providing the key to the thematic pattern. In Matt 7:12, ἐστιν is rightly to be understood as the NIV translates it to mean ‘sums up,’ but the big question in this phrase comes in understanding the proper referent for οὗτος. Some have understood it to be the previous statement concerning what is called the golden rule, while others have taken the implication of the golden rule to understand οὗτος, as referring to love.3)John Trapp, A Commentary or Exposition upon the Four Evangelists, and the Acts of the Apostles: Wherein the Text Is Explained, Some Controversies Are Discussed, Divers Common Places Are Handled, and Many Remarkable Matters Hinted, That Had by Former Interpreters Been Pretermitted. Besides, Divers Other Texts of Scripture Which Occasionally Occur Are Fully Opened, and the Whole so Intermixed with Pertinent Histories, as Will Yeeld Both Pleasure and Profit to the Judicious Reader., Thomason Tracts/ 60:E.376[1] ; Thomason Tracts / 60:E.376[2] (London, : Printed by A.M. for John Bellamie, at the sign of the three golden-Lions near the Royall-Exchange, M.DC.XLVII. [1647], 1647). On its own, the phrase is not really tied to anything. Carson intimates that it is related to 5:17 merely because of the repeated phrase law and the prophets.4)Carson, 188, Carson does not go so far as to associate 5:17 and 7:12 with 10:34. Seeing it in that fashion is appropriate and the case is strengthen by the relationship between 7:13-29. As an apparent inclusio it would be reductionistic to tie οὗτος to any one of the commands, rather in arching over the general and specific stipulations of the Sermon on the mount, οὗτος should understood to refer to the content of the discourse. οὗτος then defines the νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται as the material contained in the content of the sermon. What is the law and the prophets Everything, which Jesus proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:17 and 7:12 bracket the long discourse together, providing a title for the content enclosed.

In the following verses, (7:13-29) Matthew closes out the discourse by describing in the words of Jesus, four pairs of people or situations. These statements are parables in nature, identifying who belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven. The theme in 7:13-29 is predominately concerned with division. Who belongs and who does not. What is the good tree and what is the bad. Ultimately, it shows Jesus creating differentiation between those who belong to his Kingdom and those who do not. In addition, considering that 7:12 is attached in some way with 5:17 there is an apparent pattern forming if 5:18-20 is thematically compared with 7:13-29.

In 5:18-20 regarding the law, Jesus claims that the one who does them will be called great and the one who slackens them will be called least. Regarding the distinction between the one who slackens and the one who does the law, Pierre Bonnard comments that the least and greatest language follows a rabbinic pattern of inclusion and exclusion.5)Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile selon saint Matthieu (Labor et Fides, 2002), 62. Carson, in contrast to Bonnard, simply dismisses this as incorrect and assumes an interpretation of gradation within the kingdom. Yet Carson, concerning verse 20, agrees with Bonnard that the surpassing righteousness needed to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven is far greater both qualitatively and quantitatively than required to be in the Mosaic covenantal economy.6)Carson, 146-147 There is an inherent problem with Carson’s presumption to agree on verse 20 but disagree with Bonnard on verse 19. To follow Bonnard on verse 20 is to set the bar for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven so high that no sinful man can reach it. In doing so, it renders a discussion of gradation of rank in the Kingdom in 18 and 19 null and void. Verse 20, therefore, clearly speaks to inclusion and exclusion in the Kingdom of Heaven via a description of the merit required to be included. Situating 20 as a summary statement for 18-19 would emphasis that the content following 5:17 is reflective of division between the righteous and the unjust.

The thematic pattern between 5:17-20 and 7:12-29 is displayed as such: a statement concerning νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται followed by discourse content expressing division, a division between those who belong to the Kingdom of Heaven and those who do not. This same pattern is present in 10:34-42. Matthew 10:35-42 clearly fits the second half of the pattern in discourse content expressing division. While 10:34 does not distinctly use the terms νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται as is used in 5:17 and 7:12, it is clearly linked like 7:12 to 5:17. Despite not using those exact terms, the content of 5:17 is drawn upon intertextually by the repetition of the formulaic introduction and 10:34 is framed between the rehashed description of 4:17-25 in the commissioning of the disciples and the expected discussion concerning division. The lack of direct mention of the law and prophets in 10:34 itself is not a loss though; rather it serves to confirm the pattern in a second way. Stripping away everything else and only looking at 5:17 and 10:34 side by side demonstrates the pattern, one makes mention of the law and prophets and the other follows it by an emphasis on division in the second.7)It should be noted all the ways in which this pattern is replicated between chapters 5 and 10. Not only is replicated in in the individual structure markers, but also in the relationship between the two main chunks of texts, and finally by not mentioning the Law and prophets directly in 10:34 but highlighting Jesus mission as one of division therefore 5:17 and 10:35 in order follows the same pattern. These three pericopes create a large arc over five chapters worth of content in the gospel of Matthew with 7:12-19 sitting between the two major themes present in these five chapters. Those themes will be discussed briefly in the next section but it should be clear that the intertextual bridging of these chapters both thematically and syntactically in their individual contexts keeps the astute interpreter from looking for their meaning independent of each other. Instead, the underlying structure of the text ties their meaning inextricably to each other and to what is going in Matthews’s presentation of chapters 5-10.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Contrary to the parallels in the synoptic gospels, the disciples are not described in Matthew as having set out or accomplished their ministerial mission.
2.CArons, 188.
3.John Trapp, A Commentary or Exposition upon the Four Evangelists, and the Acts of the Apostles: Wherein the Text Is Explained, Some Controversies Are Discussed, Divers Common Places Are Handled, and Many Remarkable Matters Hinted, That Had by Former Interpreters Been Pretermitted. Besides, Divers Other Texts of Scripture Which Occasionally Occur Are Fully Opened, and the Whole so Intermixed with Pertinent Histories, as Will Yeeld Both Pleasure and Profit to the Judicious Reader., Thomason Tracts/ 60:E.376[1] ; Thomason Tracts / 60:E.376[2] (London, : Printed by A.M. for John Bellamie, at the sign of the three golden-Lions near the Royall-Exchange, M.DC.XLVII. [1647], 1647).
4.Carson, 188, Carson does not go so far as to associate 5:17 and 7:12 with 10:34.
5.Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile selon saint Matthieu (Labor et Fides, 2002), 62.
6.Carson, 146-147
7.It should be noted all the ways in which this pattern is replicated between chapters 5 and 10. Not only is replicated in in the individual structure markers, but also in the relationship between the two main chunks of texts, and finally by not mentioning the Law and prophets directly in 10:34 but highlighting Jesus mission as one of division therefore 5:17 and 10:35 in order follows the same pattern.

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